Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have been developing low-cost ultrasonic fingerprint scanning technology that could dramatically boost the security of such systems on the next generation of smartphones, according to a Factor article by Lucy Ingham.
The underlying system is essentially the same as any other ultrasound technology, using pulses of ultra-high frequency sound to map out surface area in three dimensions – in this case, the surface area consisting of the ridges that make up a fingerprint. It can also map out the tissues below the finger’s surface, further enhancing the quality of the scan. Moreover, the kind of technology being used in the microprocessor developed by the research team – a MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) wafer bonded with a CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) wafer – can be made at high volumes at a relatively low cost, according to researcher and engineering professor David A. Horsley.
It’s promising stuff, but of course some of the major players in the mobile market have already been looking into ultrasonic, 3D fingerprint mapping. For example, Sonavation announced at the start of the year an ultrasonic system called the IDKEY, compatible with browsers and mobile applications via USB, WiFi, or Bluetooth. Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon Sense ID, which happens to also to meet the rigorous FIDO authentication standards.
Still, the promise of a low-cost system holds a lot of appeal, especially given the increasingly crowded mobile marketplace. As embedded fingerprint scanners become increasingly prevalent, a number of smartphone makers may turn to the technology being developed by Prof. Horsley and his team for competitive advantage, if the price is right.